Vita Means Life – Dispatches from Vita Island

Vita Means Life – Dispatches from Vita Island

Written by Eric Hauter on 8/6/2018 for
More On: PlayStation Vita

About a year ago, I was rummaging through the clearance videogame bin at the local Wal-Mart, searching for lost treasure (one of my favorite activities). Shoving aside the endless copies of The Regular Show for 3DS and Bulletstorm for 360, I discovered a small pocket of PlayStation Vita games at the bottom of the bin. Excited at my discovery, I snapped up a copy of everything they had. I got Minecraft for $1.50, Tearaway for 99 cents, and some baseball game that I didn’t care about and have never opened for $2.00. Outside of a small rack in Gamestop, I don’t come across physical copies of Vita games very often, and buying them online can be expensive. The purchase of these three games brought my collection of physical games to nine titles, which was more than anyone else I knew. Of course, no one else I know has a Vita at all, so it doesn’t take much to have the biggest collection.

I have been rambling on about the pleasures of the PS Vita for years, chewing the ear off of anyone willing to listen. I bought one of the redesigned versions of Vita (the one with the LED screen instead of the OLED) when Borderlands 2 released, getting it in a bundle with a 10GB memory card. I also snagged a copy of Persona 4, as I had heard good things about it. No one else I knew was interested, as the Vita was already considered to be “in decline”, but I was immediately smitten. The screen is so clear and bright, the button layout is so smart, and the Vita slips right into your pocket. The shiny little device immediately became my constant traveling companion. I spent many hours in hotel rooms around the country merrily ignoring the happy-hours my co-workers were attending, choosing to play Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel instead (It’s a long game; I still haven’t beaten the sequel).

My solo love affair with my Vita has continued ever since. I have two small children living in my house, and my tastes in gaming include some fairly adult games. My wife does not approve when she finds my children sitting next to me, nestled under blankets on the sofa while I systematically explode a hotel full of Super Mutants with VATS in Fallout 4. The Vita’s Remote Play function is a great solution, allowing me to play more mature titles in the house while the kids sit in front of the TV and veg out on whatever technicolor Netflix nightmare they are currently binging.

 When I started writing for Gaming Nexus, I dutifully wrote up any Vita news I came across and posted it, though I felt that by posting Vita stories, I was hollering into the void a little bit. Little did I know - the void was full of people that love the Vita. I mean, I love the Vita, but there is an entire community of people on Twitter that LOVE the Vita.

Before long, I started seeing my Vita news stories retweeted around the Twitter-verse. Out of curiosity, I started following a few folks, to see what they were talking about. I followed folks with Twitter handles like “@TweetVitaReview”, and “@LastRealGamer”, and was shocked to see how well informed they are about Vita news. Whereas I was finding news stories drifting in through my regular channels maybe once every other week, these folks were posting news several times daily.

And then I saw images of some of their Vita collections, and my jaw literally dropped. I had no idea that this many Vita games even existed.

“On my shelf, I currently have 10 Vitas, 8 OLEDs and 2 Slims. 355 Standard games including variants.  I also currently have 87 Limited Editions,” says Lindsy (known on Twitter as @maddasahater). While her collection is impressive (to say the least), she has no intention of slowing down. “I have a few things on order with Limited Run Games, PlayAsia, Rice Digital and a few friends.”

Part of Lindsy's collection....

While Lindsy’s collection is amazing, she is not alone in her hobby. A collector named Tobias tells me that he has roughly 370 Vita games, and he “recently started to set-up a digital archive in order to have a better overview.”  And Bryce Lindsay (@vanielmage) says that he is currently “sitting at a little over 450 Vita titles. My collection currently has every single North American Vita Game ever released in physical format. A couple of years ago I decided to go further and make sure I had every single game released in English on the Vita. Soon after that I decided to go for all Collector's Editions released in North America, something that I believe only two or three of us (to my knowledge) collectors have managed to do.”

Released in North America in February 2012, the Vita has largely been ignored by Sony for several years. Originally, the system was positioned as a way to get console-level gaming in a convenient handheld format. But after a brief window of big-budget development that led to disappointing sales numbers, the system was quickly written off by the Sony big-wigs, instead becoming a landing place for smaller indie titles and import RPGs and visual novels. And soon, a community of like-minded enthusiasts (affectionately known as “Vita Island”) sprung up, and has been actively keeping the system alive, seemingly through sheer force of will. What is it about this little electronic underdog that has captured the Vita community’s hearts? And what keeps them engaged and collecting in the face of the gaming mainstream’s indifference?

@vanielmage's collection from 2015. Three years of additions have been made since this picture was taken.

For some, the Vita’s unique feature set was the initial selling point. “At the beginning it was the online aspects,” says @vanielmage. “Being able to truly play online with the Vita was so new back when it was released. The quality of the online areas of games such as Killzone was truly a feat. Later in the Vita lifecycle though, I would have to say it was the amount of JRPG's being released. Sure, remote play is great (and probably the answer most people would give) but the Vita is a JRPG / Visual Novel machine. Oh, and that OLED screen is still the most beautiful thing ever to hit a handheld system.”

For others, it was the design of the machine itself. “Portability and overall design,” says collector @TweetVitaReview. “Size is just right, (the) screen is a bit bigger than PSP but not huge like Switch so you can take it everywhere with ease. The buttons are very sturdy and the shape is very sleek. I’m especially in love with the PCH 2000 model’s shape but OLED Vita feels like a heavy duty machine, which is nice, not to mention its superior screen.”

And of course, there is the thrill of the hunt. “I tend to spend hours at a time researching Vita and googling and trying to find the rare items that some don’t know about,” says Lindsy. “I love collecting little pieces of Vita’s history from all over the world. Sometimes I tend to do more research than gaming, but it helps me to locate items I wouldn’t be able to find with standard searches.”

@TweetVitaReview's collection of systems

But one common thread that ran throughout all of my communication with the Vita crowd was the pleasure they take from the community itself.

“I've never been part of a community quite as hungry for new games, committed to the system, and as willing to help others out to achieve their collecting goals,” says @vanielmage. “I'm in my late 30's and have been part of a lot of communities, but the Vita community is one of the finest I've ever been a part of. It has an almost cult like following. What other system has its own well known catch phrases? "Vita means Life!" and "Vita Island" come to mind. I've been on the receiving end of so much kindness by people in the community, and I've tried to reciprocate that whenever I can. I've sent people copies of games without asking for anything in return, because I know they will appreciate it and pass the kindness on. When I see a post thanking that person later for another act of kindness, it makes me proud to be part of such a great community. We all look out for each other.”

While many collectors I spoke with agree that Sony has never been particularly supportive of the Vita (and many have strong opinions as to the reasons behind the neglect), the Vita community is still reeling a bit from the recent back-to-back announcements that Sony was shutting down production of physical cartridges for the Vita and removing Vita games from the monthly free offerings granted by PlayStation Plus membership.

“[The loss of physical games is] quite upsetting really. We all expected it but not this soon. You would think it’s reliable source of income for Sony with all those limited releases we are getting but maybe not,” says @TweetVitaReview.

However, many have high hopes that imports and companies like Limited Run Games will keep the Vita going for a while longer. “Vita has been a constant in my life and my love for it is tremendous… it’s a sense of sadness really,” says @maddasahater. “It’s almost a feeling of something coming to a close… I felt that way for about 10 minutes…then I realized, regardless of what we do here in the West, sources like LRG, PlayAsia and other outlets will continue to bring life to Vita for as long as we can. So we continue fighting!”

Limited Run Games, a company that creates small-batch physical copies of digital titles, seems to be one of the primary companies still keeping the Vita game pipeline active. As such, they have a lot of support from the community, who faithfully re-post news about upcoming releases.

A shot posted by Tobias to celebrate a recent acquisition

“While I am sure they have bigger fans, I do count myself among their most ardent supporters,” says @vanielmage. “I have been following them since their very first release, and have been active on their forums. Douglas (Bogart) and Josh (Fairhurst) are great people who are providing a huge service to the Vita community. I'm part of their Discord server, but also their Slack channel. There's probably 7 or 8 of us (customers) in their Slack channel, and that has allowed us to get to know most of the LRG staff on a more personal level. I live in Las Vegas, and after the October 1 shooting I woke up to messages in Slack from Douglas who wanted to make sure that I was ok. That's the kind of people they are.”

 “They do a great job. I have a lot of games from them actually.” summarizes @LastRealGamer.

But while the collector community is kept active with grabbing imports, niche titles and limited editions, a lot of the gaming community and press have been pronouncing PlayStation Vita dead for years. A quick google search of the words “Vita Dead” brings up an endless stream of articles eager to pronounce the demise of the little system, including a 2015 Wired article that claims “Sony isn't killing PlayStation Vita. It's been dead for years.”

It is this lack of attention from the mainstream gaming press and community that drove some Vita community members to seek each other out. “There is a serious lack of Vita coverage especially from big outlets, even from PlayStation channels actually, at least in the West,” says @TweetVitaReview. “There are some freelance reviewers and YouTubers but sadly there are not many of us. There is a very active community on Twitter though, both fans and developers. Personally I’m not very active on social media, probably not the most social person in general either. But I found this lack of coverage annoying and I wanted to spread awareness about how great and underrated this little device is.”

@TweetVitaReview shares some recent additions to their collection

But apparently someone forgot to inform consumers that the system is “dead”, as more new users find their way into the Vita fold every day. Eric Wilder, an RPG enthusiast, just picked up his very first Vita last month. He came to the system in a very organic way, with the Vita filling a need that he only now realized he had after engaging with another system.

“I just got my Vita a month ago,” Wilder says, “due to the Nintendo Switch.

“I used to have a hacked version of the PS4 Remote Play Android app that would work on any phone, but they stopped updating it. After that I had no option to play PS4 except on my tv... and after using the Nintendo Switch for a year and then going back to play some PS4 JRPGs, I NEEDED handheld.

“So I bought a PS Vita Slim that has 1gb of internal storage. Cleaned it up nice, got a good tempered glass screen protector. While in my home, it has turned my PS4 into a Nintendo Switch in terms of portability. Game changer!”

People are still turning to the Vita for a variety of reasons, and the collection community doesn’t mind. They fully acknowledge that a lot of folks pick up Vitas just for the Remote Play functionality (and make no mistake, Remote Play is awesome). Everyone is welcome. The Vita community is very open to folks from all levels of collecting, and on Twitter they celebrate someone’s tenth Vita game right alongside someone else’s 400th. And it is that sense of acceptance and inclusiveness that creates enthusiastic new collectors and keeps “Vita Island” members engaged in their hobby.

And sometimes that community helps people more than the community members might realize.

“I first became interested in the Vita in July of 2016,” says Lindsy. “It was an emotional time for me and coming around to a year of my father’s passing, I was looking to spend money on a distraction to drown my sorrows. An old acquaintance of mine invited me to a Vita group on Facebook when I expressed interest. The community was very enthusiastic, helpful and they quickly became the distraction I needed. I decided barely a week later to buy the Neon Orange slim with 6 games that were recommended from the community and I’ve been hooked ever since.

“The system was just beautiful to me, it made me happy, the Vita community made me happy. By the end of that first month I had already acquired 16 games. By the next month, I was already up to 44 games and a Lego PSTV bundle. The collecting aspect of Vita started to become not only a lifeline but a love. I 100% believe that the community of Vita collectors and enthusiasts helped me to get out of the negative space that was encompassing my heart.”

@TweetVitaReview displays some of their collection

Maybe you have been eyeing a used Vita down at the local Gamestop. Maybe you have an older system that has been sitting on your dresser collecting dust. Maybe you have a couple of Vita games, but you aren’t sure if there are any others worth buying. Maybe you have a Vita, and you play every day, but you think you are the only one that still cares about Sony’s wayward system.

You are not on an island by yourself, regardless of how much it feels like you are. There is a community online – just a few clicks away - created by and for folks just like you. And this community is willing and happy to welcome you to their island – Vita Island.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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